Aging Clinical and Experimental Research

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 89–97 | Cite as

Remembering the past and imagining the future: age-related differences between young, young-old and old-old

  • Rossana De Beni
  • Erika Borella
  • Barbara Carretti
  • Michela Zavagnin
  • Luciana Lazzarini
  • Gordana Milojevi
Original Article


Background and aims

Few studies have analyzed the ability to remember past events and imagine future events in older adults. The present study examines age-related differences between young, young-old, and old-old adults in creating mental images of autobiographic episodes from the past and from the future.


Cue words were presented, and for each of these, participants had to remember an autobiographic past event or imagine a future event. Performance was analyzed in terms of type of autobiographical images created (specific or general) and their vividness. Moreover, individual differences in temporal perspective were analyzed as a mediator of performance.


Old-old adults produced less specific, but more general events compared to young adults and young-old in the future condition. Moreover, only old-old produced more general images in the future than in the past. In contrast, young-old showed intermediate performance, more similar to that of young adults for both specific and autobiographical images. A similar pattern was found with regard to vividness of images produced. Regression analyses showed that the proportion of images produced in the past and the future was interdependent and was accounted by age and individual differences in temporal perspective.


Taken together, these results indicate that the ability to recall specific autobiographical past events and imagined future events is maintained in young-old, but is impaired when old-old adults are considered. Results are discussed in terms of the more accentuated cognitive decline that occurs in late adulthood.


Autobiographic images Aging Episodic future thinking 



Part of this research was supported by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Research and Education to the first author (Progetto PRIN: 2008YFTC3C_002).

Conflict of interest



  1. 1.
    Tulving E (2002) Episodic memory: from mind to brain. Annu Rev Psychol 53:1–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Tulving E (2005) Episodic memory and autonoesis: uniquely human? In: Terrace HS, Metcalfe J (eds) The missing link in cognition: origins of self-reflective consciousness. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 5–36Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tulving E (1985) Memory and consciousness. Can Psychol 26:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Schacter DL, Addis DR, Buckner RL (2007) Remembering the past to imagine the future: the prospective brain. Nat Rev Neurosci 8:657–661PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Suddendorf T, Corballis MC (2007) The evolution of foresight: what is mental time travel, and is it unique to humans? Behav Brain Sci 30:299–313PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Szpunar KK (2010) Episodic future thought: an emerging concept. Perspect Psychol Sci 5:142–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hassabis D, Kumaran D, Vann SD, Maguire EA (2007) Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:1726–1731PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Klein SB, Loftus J, Kihlstrom JF (2002) Memory and temporal experience: the effects of episodic memory loss on an amnesic patient’s ability to remember the past and imagine the future. Soc Cogn 20:353–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Addis DR, Wong AT, Schacter DL (2007) Remembering the past and imagining the future: common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration. Neuropsychologia 45:1363–1377PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Botzung A, Denkova E, Manning L (2008) Experiencing past and future personal events: functional neuroimaging evidence on the neural bases of mental time travel. Brain Cogn 66:202–212PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Okuda J et al (2003) Thinking of the future and past: the roles of the frontal pole and the medial temporal lobes. Neuroimage 19:1369–1380PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Szpunar KK, Watson JM, McDermott KB (2007) Neural substrates of envisioning the future. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:642–647PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Schacter DL, Addis DR (2007) The cognitive neuroscience of constructive memory: remembering the past and imagining the future. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 362:773–786PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Addis DR, Pan L, Vu MA, Laiser N, Schacter DL (2009) Constructive episodic simulation of the future and the past: distinct subsystems of a core brain network mediate imagining and remembering. Neuropsychologia 47:222–238Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Addis DR, Musicaro R, Pan L, Schacter DL (2010) Episodic simulation of past and future events in older adults: evidence from an experimental recombination task. Psychol Aging 25:369–376PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Addis DR, Wong AT, Schacter DL (2008) Age-related changes in the episodic simulation of future events. Psychol Sci 19:33–41PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gaesser B, Sacchetti DC, Addis DR, Schacter DL (2011) Characterizing age-related changes in remembering the past and imagining the future. Psychol Aging 26:80–84PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Craik FIM, Salthouse TA (2000) Handbook of aging and cognition, 2nd edn. Erlbaum, MahwahGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Levine B, Svoboda E, Hay JF, Winocur G, Moscovitch M (2002) Aging and autobiographical memory: dissociating episodic from semantic retrieval. Psychol Aging 17:677–689PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Szpunar KK, McDermott KB (2008) Episodic future thought and its relation to remembering: evidence from ratings of subjective experience. Conscious Cogn 17:330–334PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Gamboz N, De Vito S, Brandimonte MA, Pappalardo S, Galeone F, Iavarone A, Della Sala S (2010) Episodic future thinking in amnesic mild cognitive impairment. Neuropsychologia 48:2091–2097PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Addis DR, Sacchetti DC, Ally BA, Budson AE, Schacter DL (2009) Episodic simulation of future events is impaired in mild Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia 47:2660–2671PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Baltes PB (1987) Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: on the dynamics between growth and decline. Dev Psychol 23:611–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Robert C, Borella E, Fagot D, Lecerf T, de Ribaupierre A (2009) Working memory and inhibitory control across the life span: intrusion errors in the Reading Span Test. Mem Cognit 37:336–345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    James LE, Burke DM, Austin A, Hulme E (1998) Production and perception of “verbosity” in younger and older adults. Psychol Aging 13:355–367PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Labouvie-Vief G, Blanchard-Fields F (1982) Cognitive aging and psychological growth. Aging Soc 2:183–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Haque S, Conway MA (2001) Sampling the process of autobiographical memory construction. Eur J Cogn Psycho 13:529–547Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    D’Argembeau A, Mathy A (2011) Tracking the construction of episodic future thoughts. J Exp Psychol 140:258–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Conway MA, Pleydell-Pearce CW (2000) The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychol Rev 107:261–288PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    D’Argembeau A, Van der Linden M (2004) Phenomenal characteristics associated with projecting oneself back into the past and forward into the future: influence of valence and temporal distance. Conscious Cogn 13:844–858PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Atance CM, O’Neill DK (2005) The emergence of episodic future thinking in humans. Learn Motiv 36:126–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Andriessen I, Phalet K, Lens W (2006) Future goal setting, task motivation and learning of minority and non-minority students in Dutch schools. Br J Educ Psychol 76:827–850PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Horstmanshof L, Zimitat C (2007) Future time orientation predicts academic engagement among first-year university students. Br J Educ Psychol 77:703–718PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Sheeran P, Orbell S (1999) Implementation intentions and repeated behavior: augmenting the predictive validity of the theory of planned behavior. Eur J Soc Psychol 29:349–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Crook T, Bartus RT, Ferris SH, Whitehouse P, Cohen GD, Gershon S (1986) Age associated memory impairment: proposed diagnostic criteria and measures of clinical change-report of a national institute of mental health work group. Dev Neuropsychol 2:261–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    De Beni R, Borella E, Carretti B, Marigo C, Nava LA. BAC (2008) Portfolio per la valutazione del benessere e delle abilità cognitive nell’età adulta e avanzata (The assesment of well-being and cognitive abilities in adulthood and aging). Giunti OS, FirenzeGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Wechsler D (1981) WAIS-R manual. Psychological Corporation, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Borella E, Carretti B, Cornoldi C, De Beni R (2007) Working memory, control of interference and everyday experience of thought interference: when age makes the difference. Aging Clin Exp Res 19:200–206PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Cornoldi C (1974) Imagery values for 310 Italian nouns. I J Psychol 1:211–225Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Zimbardo PG, Boyd JN (1999) Putting time in perspective: a valid, reliable individual-differences metric. J Pers Soc Psychol 77:1271–1288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Trope Y, Liberman N (2003) Temporal construal. Psychol Rev 110:403–421PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Berntsen D, Bohn A (2010) Remembering and forecasting: the relation between autobiographical memory and episodic future thinking. Mem Cognit 38:265–278PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rossana De Beni
    • 1
  • Erika Borella
    • 1
  • Barbara Carretti
    • 1
  • Michela Zavagnin
    • 1
  • Luciana Lazzarini
    • 1
  • Gordana Milojevi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of General PsychologyUniversity of PadovaPaduaItaly

Personalised recommendations